UNDERSTANDING THE INTERIOR DESIGN WORLD FROM THE P.O.V. OF EMERGING DESIGNER COPPER DUST:
The design industry is the ninth biggest employer in the UK, generating £71.7 billion in contributions to the economy in 2013 alone. An estimated of 580k people are currently working across the sector, with another one million designers employed in non-design related industry. According to the Design Economy 2015 report published by the UK’s Design Council, from 2009 to 2013 there’s been a significant increase in the design economy’s GVA (gross value added) of 27.9%. In other words, design is a lucrative business in the UK.
So it’s no wonder that more and more graduates from artistic backgrounds and disciplines are joining the world of design. Despite so many names already basking in the global spotlight, there’s always room for new and original designs, innovative products and ambitious projects. Numerous industry events are organised every year in the UK, of which some are specifically dedicated to emerging designers. And more often than not we find ourselves mesmerised by some of the collections exhibited at these events.
One such case is that of Copper Dust, a new design brand recently founded by Vanessa Agyemang. With an extensive education and work experience in the design field and deep ties to the fashion industry, Vanessa is now reaping the results of the hard work and courage it took to establish Copper Dust. The brand started as an idea while out shopping for a lampshade with a friend – a mission that led her to discover that there was nothing special, unique or bespoke in any way available on the market. Armed with a Bachelors Honours Degree in Interior Architecture & Design and a Diploma in Interior Design, Vanessa took the challenge upon herself and created her first line of limited edition lampshades, in an effort to inspire and offer something new and beautiful to design-conscious homes.
We first met Vanessa at the Martyn White Design launch in partnership with Buster + Punch, during the London Design Festival, and we have featured her products on #Espresso before. However, Copper Dust required more attention, as we had yet to understand what drove and inspired Vanessa to get into the design business and most importantly, how the industry treated her as an emerging designer. So we got to meet with her over a cup of hot chocolate, and put together an insightful interview about her ambitions, her vision and her sources of inspiration.
Coshamie: Vanessa, what made you get into design in the first place?
‘Well, I’ve always been interested in design on all levels. From working in the fashion industry to my academic studies, it’s always been a part of my life. After school I also worked in corporate design and continued to hone my skills. Then my friend started renovation works on her house and I offered to go shopping with her and help her pick out the right lighting for her home project. And I noticed that lampshades tend to fall into only two very extreme categories: the Ikea stuff and the Chelsea stuff. There was no quality or bespoke mid-range. Something had to be done, obviously, for those of us willing to spend a little bit more on something unique and beautiful, while still within a certain budget,’ says Vanessa.
‘But as far as Copper Dust goes, I’m pretty much self-taught, and it’s been an incredible experience so far. The success of the brand is what keeps me going.’
Coshamie: Who inspired you along the way? Who do you actively follow on social media, for example, for new collections and designs?
‘Oh, there are plenty of amazing designers out there. I try to keep myself up to date with most of them. I was mostly inspired by Zaha Hadid – her work was always so artistic and innovative. I like Ron Arad, his designs are more industrial and bold, I often appreciated that as I delved deeper into design myself. And, of course, Tom Dixon. I don’t think I need to explain why,’ Vanessa laughs lightly.
‘As far as social media goes, though, I follow several artists and designers in particular – like Yinka Ilori, who has this splendid way of up-cycling vintage furniture with Nigerian elements and African fabrics, and has a wonderful story behind every object he designs; an artist I follow almost religiously is Yinka Shonibare, his installations are often simply out of this world, thoughtful and colourful, brimming with cultural undertones and always a pleasure to look at. When it comes to design, I usually look up David Linley – there’s just so much to love in their showroom; the sophistication, the attention to detail and the love of craftsmanship define his brand, and they are values I also apply to my own works.’
Coshamie: Christmas is getting closer, how does it look to you for home décor?
‘I’m not a big fan of the Christmas rush, to be honest. My holidays are always calm and full of love, spent with my family around the Christmas tree. But I don’t pay any particular attention to Christmas trends – on that note, however, I have noticed some autumnal colours emerging at Top Drawer, and a good dose of emerald green and gold for the more luxury-savvy decorator.’
Coshamie: You’ve been to most of September’s design shows – what do you think we’ll see more of in 2017?
‘Yes, September has been quite the experience! I must say, I’ve noticed bold prints a lot more this season, even at the London Fashion Week, and mostly they’re teamed up with neutral palettes. I think this combination will definitely highlight next year’s trends. The Scandinavian influence is undeniable, as you observed yourselves; and there’s a surge of emerald green and gold that I am so happy to see these days. I think this particular contrast will be used more in 2017 designs.’
‘In terms of fabrics, I think silk and crushed velvet are given more attention, although I’m not very sure as to how I feel about the latter. If not used properly, it might give off a very tacky look – we’re terrified of tacky as designers,’ Vanessa laughs.
‘Precious metals are strong, there’s a plethora of brass elements that I appreciate. And there’s this feeling of industrial luxury going on, where designers are mixing materials and simplifying the designs a little bit – you see stone paired with metals, or marble joining wood for a particular surface; I like that a lot and I want to see more of it.’
Coshamie: What emerging brands draw your attention today?
‘I’m a big fan of natural materials, which I think should be shown more when designing furniture – less varnish, more of the raw beauty and shapes. Ginger & Jagger do exactly that with their designs, and I personally love them for it. HJEM is another brand I like, I think they show great promise. And after the London Design Festival, I can wholeheartedly say that The Workshop is definitely a design brand to look out for over the next few years.’
Coshamie: How is the design world treating you as an emerging creative? What was it like for you to enter this scene?
‘At first it was incredibly difficult, I felt like was screaming at the top of my lungs, really, and especially since my business is online, I’ve had a lot of obstacles to overcome and get myself out there and noticed. It was a tedious process and with a lot of experiments along the way until I found the right formula to market the Copper Dust brand. Social media and SEO helped a lot, as my brand gained visibility and we started getting traffic on the website. It was also a question of timing, of being in the right place at the right time, and most importantly collaborating with the right people. For example, I got extremely good coverage from blogs and from the LDF launch with Martyn White Designs and Buster + Punch,’ Vanessa says.
‘Once you get your foot through the door, it gets easier. Participating in trade shows has actually tripled website traffic, so I’m getting some fabulous attention after September, especially after Top Drawer 2016, which was my very first industry event, and the pop-up shop event I did with Enterprise Nation in Amsterdam.’
Coshamie: ‘Your current designs’ visual style and African influences are splendid – is this a permanent part of your brand or will there be more coming?’
‘The African influences are an important element for me, but they’re not vital to the Copper Dust brand. I’ve just released the new Rainforest collection, for example, which does not have any of those cultural references in its designs. Aside from that, I like experimenting with different shapes and patterns from other cultures – like what you see in the Aztec collection.
‘Personally I’m keen to see how the Rainforest line does, I enjoyed working on it so much. The vintage fabrics I used were individually sourced, and the tonal greens were inspired from banana leaves, coconut and palm trees – vibrant and luscious; the mix of patterns that emerged out of this was a different experience altogether. The lampshades don’t include the bases, but I will probably start looking into this in the future, as people are falling in love with the piece as a whole.’
Coshamie: What projects are next in store for you?
‘We’re doing a pop-up shop for Christmas, in CP Hart in Waterloo. I’m looking forward to that one – I’ve often felt that if you want to make someone happy for Christmas, you buy them a beautiful lampshade,’ Vanessa laughs. ‘I’m also going to expand the Trio collection with fringes and/or larger size versions. I want to bring fringes back. Fringes need to come back.’
Coshamie: You mentioned social media earlier. What role has it played and is still playing for your business and brand?
‘Social media is actually my favourite thing, I just wish I had more time to do it myself. I used analytics to figure out which platform was most helpful for the business – because so far it’s been mostly business-to-client, Facebook was the most successful and generated a lot of good traffic for the online shop. I use Facebook mostly to nurture sales leads, it’s fantastic when used and budgeted properly.’
‘I use Twitter for the business’ brand awareness, all the great brands are tweeting these days, and it’s an excellent media/news resource. I see the highest levels of interaction on Twitter for my brand, if I’m honest.’
‘Instagram was the hardest to build but I’m finally reaping some rewards and seeing results. The Copper Dust brand has grown significantly through this platform, and I’m expecting to see it go further up. Pinterest got me less traffic, but my participation in various design events has recently helped it grow in terms of following and engagement. Designers use Pinterest for inspiration and it’s also been a great visual aid for my shop. Overall, I’m confident when I say that social media plays a crucial role in the successful development of any new design brand. We’re all online these days, after all.’
And Vanessa is right, everyone is moving online, even the legends. With new lighting collections out and an already-busy 2017 ahead, we’re expecting to see more of Copper Dust’s eclectic lampshades soon enough. On another note, our Christmas lists keep getting bigger and bigger…